A Dongxiang student in school
Total population
Regions with significant populations
<621,500 (2010 census) in Gansu
Santa, Hezhou, Tangwang, Mandarin
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Mongolic peoples, Hui, Bonan, Salar

The Dongxiang people (autonym: Sarta or Santa (撒爾塔); simplified Chinese: 东乡族; traditional Chinese: 東鄉族; pinyin: Dōngxiāngzú, Xiao'erjing: دْوثِيَانْ‌زُو) are a Mongolic people and one of 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. Half of the population live in Dongxiang Autonomous County, Linxia Prefecture, Gansu Province, China. The rest are divided over Hezheng County, Linxia City, Lanzhou, Dingxi and Ningxia.[1] According to the 2010 census, their population numbers 621,500, although research has found that the number is inflated due to Hui identifying themselves as Dongxiang for the census, in order to benefit from minority policies.[2]


Chinese historians generally agreed that Dongxiang are the descendants of Central Asians migrated to Mongol-ruled China.[2] They were converted to Islam in the 1340s by a missionary named Hamzeh (哈木則, Hāmùzé).[2] They spoke a different Central Asian language before shifting to their current mother tongue, Dongxiang language, a member of the Mongolic languages.[2]

The name Dongxiang is derived from them living in what was called the eastern (Dong) part of Hezhou prefecture, present day Linxia.[3]

A Dongxiang Muslim elder with long beard & other Muslims. Hezhou (Linxia), Gansu, 1934.


Haplogroup analysis by Wen et. al. (2013) shows that the closest relative of Dongxiang people are the common ancestors of the Kirghiz in Xinjiang, the Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, the Tajiks in Khujand, Tajikistan and the Ishkashimis in Tajikistan. The second closest relative is the Salars in Xinhua, Qinghai. The third closest relative are the commons ancestors of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the Tajiks in Xinjiang, the Shughnis in Tajikistan, the Bartangi in Tajikistan and various Uzbeks in different Central Asian countries. [4]

STR loci analysis by Zhan et. al. (2018) shows that the closest relative of Dongxiang people among Chinese and Central Asians are the Buryats in Ewenki Banner, Inner Mongolia. The next closest relative are the Kazakhs in Xinjiang. All other Chinese and Central Asian populations are very distant.[5] STR analysis excluding Kyrgyz, Tajiks and other Central Asians might conclude Dongxiang is close to East Asians as a whole.[6]

Physical anthropological analysis by Li et. al. (2011) shows that the closest relative of Dongxiang men among the Chinese populations are the Tajiks in Tashkurgan, Xinjiang. The next closest relative is the common ancestor of the Mongols in Bayingolin, Xinjiang, the Salars in Xinhua, Qinghai and the Mongols in Tongliao, Inner Mongolia. The physical anthropology of Dongxiang women show her closest relative are the common ancestor of the Bonans in Jishishan, Gansu and the Oroqens in Oroqen Banner, Inner Mongolia. Her next closest relative is the common ancestors of the Monguors in Huzhu, Qinghai, the Salars in Xinhua, Qinghai and the Tajiks in Tashkurgan, Xinjiang.[7]

Distribution of Y-chromosome haplogroups in Dongxiang:[8]











In another study in 2010 found that the majority of the Dongxiang belonged to Haplogroup R1a (R1a : 54%).[9]


The Dongxiang have Mongol, Han Chinese, Hui and Tibetan surnames.[10] Dongxiang with Han Chinese surnames such as Wang, Kang, Zhang, Gao and Huang claim descent from Han Chinese. Surnames such as Ma and Mu are clearly of Hui origin.[11][12]

Some Dongxiang have said that, in the rare instances that they do marry with other people, it is only with Han and Hui, but not Tibetans.[13]

Military history

In 1900, Generals Ma Fulu and Ma Fuxiang brought a Chinese Muslim troop comprising Dongxiang, Hui and Bonan to fight the foreign troops in the Boxer Rebellion. They were killed while defending the Zhengyang Gate in Beijing. In 1937-1945, General Ma Biao brought a multiethnic troop, including Dongxiang, to fight the Second Sino-Japanese War. Some claimed Ma Fuxiang himself was of a Dongxiang assimilated into the Hui Chinese.[14]


The base of the economy of Dongxiang is agriculture. The main products are potatoes, corn, barley, millet and wheat.[15] They are also recognized craftsmen, specializing in the elaboration of traditional carpets.

Muslims at the mosque with a minaret and market, Dongxiang County, Gansu, 1934.


An early ethnography of Dongxiang was documented in 1940 by the American Asiatic Association. The author interviewed Ma Chuanyuan, a Muslim Mongol who was the magistrate of five districts, on the origins of his people. The account described them as a community of one hundred thousand, Mongol by race, Islam by religion and Chinese by culture.[16][17]

Common Dongxiang cuisine includes the use of a potato mash that is used for noodles, snacks, alcoholic drinks and more.[15]

Traditional Dongxiang dress for men includes buttoned robes and a broad waistband. These waistbands are sometimes used to hang knives, snuff bottles, or small bags on them. A vest over a white shirt, trousers and a beret like cap makes up the rest of the traditional outfit. Seasonal clothing like sheepskin coats are also worn during the winter. Dongxiang women wear embroidered outfits which include wide sleeved shirts and trousers. Older women wear kerchiefs and younger women tend to wear bright decorated cotton caps and silk veils. On special occasions, women wear embroidered shoes with a medium heel.[15]

Language and education

The Dongxiang speak the Dongxiang language, a member of the Mongolic family.[18] The language has distinct features resembling Middle Mongolian and has up to 35% loan words borrowed from Mandarin Chinese. The negligible words of Persian, Turkic and Arabic origin are probably remnants of their original languages before language shift to Dongxiang.[2] The Dongxiang people also have a rich tradition of oral literature and use the Arabic alphabet.

Their autonym, sarta, may also provide a contradictory clue to their origin: a similar word Sart was formerly used in Central Asia to refer to Arab traders[citation needed], later to the local (mostly) Turkic-speaking city dwellers. Their official name of Dōngxiāng meaning "eastern villages" stems from the fact that their settlements are east of the major Han Chinese settlements.

As a result of the language shift, some 20,000 people in several villages in the Northeastern Dongxiang County now speak the so-called "Tangwang language": a creolized version of Mandarin Chinese with a strong Dongxiang influence, in particular in its grammar.[19]

Government statistics show that the Dongxiang are among the poorest and least literate of China's minorities, with most Dongxiang having completed only an average of 1.1 years of schooling, a problem aggravated by the lack of a written language.

In 2004, the Ford Foundation provided US$30,000 in grant money for a pilot project to promote bilingual education in Mandarin and Dongxiang, in an effort to reduce school drop-out rates. The project is credited with the publication of a Dongxiang–Chinese bilingual dictionary as well as recent rises in test scores.

Famous Dongxiang people


  1. ^ Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey. Western Washington. ISBN 978-0-914584-17-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e Xu, Dan; Xie, Xiaodong; Wen, Shaoqing (2013). "The Dongxiang Language and People". Journal of Cambridge Studies. 8 (2): 40-47. Translated from: 徐丹; 文少卿; 谢小冬 (2012). "东乡语和东乡人". 民族语文 (3): 59–62.
  3. ^ Schwarz, Henry G. (1984). The Minorities of Northern China: A Survey. Western Washington. ISBN 978-0-914584-17-9.
  4. ^ 文少卿; 谢小冬; 徐丹 (2013). "接触与混合——从 Y 染色体的角度看东乡人群及其语言的关系". 遗传. 35 (6): 766.
  5. ^ Zhan, Xiaoni (2018). "Forensic characterization of 15 autosomal STRs in four populations from Xinjiang, China, and genetic relationships with neighboring populations". Scientific Reports. 8 (4673).
  6. ^ Yao, Hong-Bing; Wang, Chuan-Chao; Tao, Xiaolan; Shang, Lei; Wen, Shao-Qing; Zhu, Bofeng; Kang, Longli; Jin, Li; Li, Hui (2016-12-07). "Genetic evidence for an East Asian origin of Chinese Muslim populations Dongxiang and Hui". Scientific Reports. 6 (1): 38656. Bibcode:2016NatSR...638656Y. doi:10.1038/srep38656. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 5141421. PMID 27924949.
  7. ^ 李咏兰 (2011). "中国布里亚特人的体质特征" (PDF). 人类学学报. 30 (4): 366.
  8. ^ Wen, Shaoqing; Xu, Dan (2017), "The Silk Road: Language and Population Admixture and Replacement", Languages and Genes in Northwestern China and Adjacent Regions, Springer, Singapore, pp. 55–78, doi:10.1007/978-981-10-4169-3_4, ISBN 9789811041686, S2CID 135234209
  9. ^ Xiao, Chun-Jie; Tang, Wen-Ru; Shi, Hong; Tan, Si-Jie; Dong, Yong-Li; Wei, Chuan-Yu; Qiao, En-Fa; Shou, Wei-Hua (May 2010). "Y-chromosome distributions among populations in Northwest China identify significant contribution from Central Asian pastoralists and lesser influence of western Eurasians". Journal of Human Genetics. 55 (5): 314–322. doi:10.1038/jhg.2010.30. ISSN 1435-232X. PMID 20414255.
  10. ^ James Stuart Olson (1998). An ethnohistorical dictionary of China. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-313-28853-1. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  11. ^ Henry G. Schwarz (1984). The minorities of northern China: a survey. Vol. 17 of Studies on East Asia (illustrated ed.). Western Washington. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-914584-17-9. Retrieved 17 July 2011.(Original from the University of Michigan )
  12. ^ Richard V. Weekes (1984). Richard V. Weekes (ed.). Muslim peoples: a world ethnographic survey, Volume 1 (2, illustrated ed.). Greenwood Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-313-23392-0. Retrieved 17 July 2011.(Original from the University of Michigan )
  13. ^ Colin Legerton; Jacob Rawson (2009). Invisible China: A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands. Chicago Review Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-55652-814-9. Retrieved 2010-06-28. dongxiang han hui marriages.
  14. ^ Louis M. J. Schram (2006). The Monguors of the Kansu-Tibetan Frontier: Their Origin, History, and Social Organization. Kessinger Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4286-5932-2. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  15. ^ a b c Elliot, Sheila Hollihan (2006). Muslims in China. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers. pp. 65. ISBN 1-59084-880-2.
  16. ^ American Asiatic Association (1940). Asia: journal of the American Asiatic Association, Volume 40. Asia Pub. Co. p. 659. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  17. ^ Hartford Seminary Foundation (1941). The Moslem World, Volumes 31–34. Hartford Seminary Foundation. p. 182. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  18. ^ Henry Serruys; Françoise Aubin (1987). The Mongols and Ming China: customs and history, Volume 1. Variorum Reprints. p. cxv. ISBN 978-0-86078-210-0. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  19. ^ International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies (1996). Atlas of languages of intercultural communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas, Volume 2, Part 1. (Volume 13 of Trends in Linguistics, Documentation Series). Walter de Gruyter. pp. 875–882. ISBN 978-3-11-013417-9.